If the world is always the way it is, if time always comes back the way it does – 365 days year in and year out – what is new about the New Year?
The SWS survey also shows that people are always hopeful for the coming year. Yet at the year-end, things are ever the same or have become worse. People have lost their jobs. Prices have gone higher. The traffic is the same if not worse. The lumads are killed or driven from their ancestral lands. Duterte continues to swear against the Catholic religion or openly show off his misogynist attitudes and get away with it to the applause of his audience. So what else new? If the next year would be the same, what is the New Year for?
That things would be the same year in and year out belongs to a theory in philosophy called “eternal recurrence” or “eternal return”. Things are meant to return as they are, ancient thinkers and civilizations say. The universe recurs and continue to recur “in a similar form an infinite number of times across time and space”. Time is seen as cyclical not linear symbolized by the snake eating its tail. There is no end. Things return again and again.
In modern times, however, it is the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who theorized the notion of “eternal recurrence”. In The Gay Science, he writes:
“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ ... Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” [The Gay Science, §341]
In Nietzsche’s thought, to accept eternal recurrence is to also accept our fate, our situation, our poverty and victimhood, our predetermined lot.
In Latin, this is called “amor fati” (love of fate): “that one wants to have nothing different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely to bear the necessary, still less to conceal it—all idealism is deceit before the necessary—but to love it.”
How does this thinking look like? Do we find this around? Very much! Take these instances. People are killed on the war on drugs. This is a necessary collateral damage if we want to have a better future. That Duterte can shame women in public - just accept him as he is. Parang di na kayo nasanay. Unlike people in Manila, people in the South do not take things too seriously. It is his way of coping up with the difficulty of our situation. We elected him that way. So, take him as he is. That corrupt politicians are back? Be contented with how things are. The fact is that Duterte won. So accept it. If you want to change things, wait for your turn. In 2022!
But against eternal recurrence is apocalyptic thought. We should revolt at things as they exist. In a world where everything returns as they are, there is no way out of the victims of history. To long for the apocalypse is to desire for an end to all that is not right. Apocalyptic desire means a total critique of the world around us but also a longing for its aftermath. It is to hope that a new world is actually possible --- “after the end”.
When people are contented with what they have, things do not change because the universe is said to recur eternally. The poor continue to be poor. The victims continue to be victims. And there is no way out for them. It is only when people are discontented with the status quo that they long for the Messiah. It is only through the apocalypse that the Messiah enters history.
Long before capitalism became global, the theologian Johan Baptist Metz already predicted the contradictory social phenomena that dominate the headlines in our times: apathy and fatalism, hatred and fanaticism.
Globalization and its contradictions – populism as one of them – are the obvious heirs of eternal recurrence and evolutionary thought. Pope Francis calls it the “economy of exclusion”, a “throw-away society”, a “globalization of indifference” where profit is valued over persons. In this worldview, its human victims—considered as collateral damage—could not hope for something different, for some “surprise”, for some respite. In its self-enclosure and endless repetition, no one cries “halt” to the victims’ pain and suffering. As Metz quotes Nietzche: “evolution does not aim at happiness; it is only concerned with evolution.”
Apocalypse as “interruption” thus becomes salvific and necessary. Only through the apocalyptic vision can the Messiah enter and interrupt history.
“Christology without an apocalyptic vision becomes no more than an ideology of conquest and triumph,” Metz writes.
Jesus is not just a cute baby in the manger. He had strong words of condemnation for the abusive rulers of his times. He came with a whip of chord and turned over tables of money changers in the temple. He interrupted their usual state of affairs. The Messiah can only come at the apocalypse.
That is why I suggest to celebrate New Year with a bang! It is not a benign beginning. Otherwise, things will ever be the same. It should be an apocalyptic end.
End to everything that Duterte represents: disrespect for human life, the neglect of human dignity, the end of the rule of law, historical revisionism, the silencing of dissent, the return of the corrupt and many other evil things.
I want to celebrate it with a “bang” – not to bring in good luck as the firecrackers are meant to do – but to end the way things are with this government.
Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, C.M.
St Vincent SchoolofTheology - Adamson University